Tagged: acoustic

Eloquence Framed

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Jessica Sligter
Fear and the Framing
NORWAY HUBRO CD2516 (2012)

With Fear and the Framing, Jessica Sligter has crafted an eclectic selection of tracks that serve to highlight the wide talents of this Dutch singer-songwriter.

Together, the ten tracks run the gamut from the gentle and folksy to the electric and dramatic. This contrast is never more pronounced than between track one, ‘Man Who Scares Me’, a beautiful, folksy ballad, and track two, ‘If That Was Crooked. This Is Straight’, a rumbling, unsettling instrumental. On first listen, such diversity only heightens the anticipation for the rest of the album, and thankfully the following tracks do not disappoint.

Fans of acoustic, guitar-based songs will find much to enjoy here, most notably on ‘The Perfect Vesse’l and ‘Fall, Here’; whereas tracks such as ‘Pricklet’ and ‘Scott Will Be Hierarch push’ the experimental boundaries. In lesser hands, the result of this mix could have been an unfocused collection of sounds; but here, each track is very much part of a unified whole, which is essentially held together through Sligter’s eloquent lyrics and haunting voice. The overall effect is a highly satisfactory, if slightly unnerving, experience.

Of course, with such diversity going on, this is not an album that will please all of the people all of the time, but it is never less than hypnotic and intriguing. In fact, listening to Fear and the Framing can be likened to coming across an abstract painting in a gallery that you just can’t look away from; the closer you examine it, the more its intricate detail and subtle layers are revealed.

Following her debut 2010 release, Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain (which was released under the name JÆ), comparisons to such artists as Will Oldham and Linda Perhacs were thrown around; and there’s no mistaking the influence of Bjork on some of the tracks on this follow-up album. However, there’s also no doubt that Sligter is a true original and deserves to be recognised as such.

Overall, this is a distinctive album that is at once soft and jagged; requiring several listens in order to fully fall under the spell of this talented singer-songwriter who will no doubt find her fan base has swelled considerably as a result of this latest impressive offering.

Eine Kleine Jazz Musik

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Mats Eilertsen Trio
Sails Set
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD 2524 CD (2013)

The second recording from Mats Eilertsen Trio is a gallery of vignettes neither perfected nor perfunctory, but briefly stated sentiments seemingly abstracted from memorable scenes. This peripatetic piano, drum and bass trio locates their work somewhere in the liminal terrain between improvisation and composition – a claim far from uncommon – but one ratified by a supple, intriguingly intangible sound, which is fortified by a finely-tuned harmonic rapport as the three flow in and out of a shifting array of formations with a sense of equality and equanimity evident in every note.

The eponymous ‘Sails Set’ provides a nonchalant entry: Harmen Fraanje’s piano tumbles like a winding mountain stream, pillowed by vibrations drawn from a slowly bowed double bass. This carefree manner is abruptly more angular in ‘Stellar’, in which a stark solo piano pans through an abandoned house in monochrome. Drummer Thomas Strønen wields a range of sticks throughout the album, mostly catalysts for calmer climates, but in ‘Orbiting’ his off-meter rolls of tinkling percussion stand as the most striking feature, complimented by a newly springy and staggered bass sound. Overall, it is Eilertsen‘s bass-playing that I’m most drawn to, being expressive of the group’s warm, non-committal personality, but laced with a soft, all-adhering resonance.

The moods pass effortlessly from one instrument to another as easily as the leading role. A sparing attitude towards instrumentation resides among the group’s many graces, and the negative space that surrounds and permeates every musical event is often as expressive as the performance. At times it has the air of a good film noir score (with a hint of zen minimalism in the core), albeit one lacking a theme tune. It is not dissimilar to some of the better material from John Zorn’s recent jazz output, though luckily lacking the exhausting pace and vibes.

One might assume that on record the trio further explores themes discovered while improvising, though forsaking motifs and melodies for the sake of a more impressionistic array of atmospheres. Their avoidance of distinct phrases suggests a series of extended segues, not scenes. The credo that ‘less is more’ is articulated perfectly in this short set, where even in its evident freedom there is ever a sense of restraint. The group sets out not to dazzle, but to enchant with careful attention to duration and detail.

From Some Faraway Field

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1982 + BJ Cole
1982 + BJ Cole
NORWAY HUBRO HUBROCD2522 (2012)

In this latest episode of musical wanderlust, steel guitar raconteur BJ Cole climbs on board with 1982, the trio comprising Nils Økland, Sigbjørn Apeland and drummer Øyvind Skarbø. The atmosphere is – and I offer the cliché without apology – ‘cinematic’. It speaks of sparseness, topographical isolation; the opening tracks redolent of the rural expanses of some Midwestern period drama starring Liam Neeson. In places, there are dim reminders of Bill Frisell.

In the opening, Apeland’s harmonium sets the tone of mournful grace, cueing a handsome entrance from Økland on the violin, which strides with dignity through the sparse, shuffling undergrowth. Like some wood-whittling background extra, Cole maintains a low profile throughout the opening track (entitled ‘09:03’, after its duration); a markedly different persona to the gregarious one I (last) encountered on the Luke Vibert collaboration, Stop The Panic. But moving in to the second track, he assumes a speaking role, gracing us with a voice both dynamic and dynamically varied. Sometimes tremulous, sometimes tremendous.

At times the air of mournful contemplation becomes almost nautical, as though fantasising of faraway seas, a ghostly galleon in the frozen morning fog, courtesy of the quiet swells of seabed-still sea shanties that emanate from the harmonium; the lilting, airborne twangs of steel guitar that conjure up Coleridge and vanish without warning like Ahab after his white whale. These are subsumed by alternating episodes of urgency (in which the erstwhile laconic Skarbø rallies his most determined rhythms) and muted pondering, marked by the albums distinctive tendency towards droning and daydreams.

In contrast to its relative brevity (just over 33 minutes here), there is depth to this recording that lends it the richness of the landscapes it evokes. The musicianship is beautifully restrained and intuitive to the point of identity surrender. The listening experience is rewarding and utterly recommended.

Eternal Zio: free-ranging folk drone improv psychedelia weaves a strange spell

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Eternal Zio, self-titled, Boring Machines BM043LP / Black Sweat Records BS003LP, LP (2012)

Don’t let that label name Boring Machines distract you from the debut album of Milanese quartet Eternal Zio: these fellows do all they can to serve up an eclectic recording of free-ranging improv music on as many instruments as they can see in the recording studio. Hurdy gurdy, harmonica, church organ, tribal drums, high-pitched recorders and guitars are some of the ingredients blended into this musical masala. Most of the time, the musicians are at ease strumming their instruments or beating the drums sporadically and casually, as though the day is too hot to do anything other than rest. The tracks range from easy-going rhythm and melody exercises to long trance drone patterns and pieces that just fall a bit short of being “songs”.

At just over 30 minutes in length, this album more resembles one track of six different though related chapters than a collection of proto-songs. The mood is even and laidback, and very few songs lift their pace to something faster than a steady trot. Track 3 is a mesmerising trance poem with highly rhythmic drumming and gently shuddering drone vibrations wrapped around the tom-tom beats. I’m not sure if I’m hearing a bit of The Dead C, Bong, 6majik9 or some of the old Wooden Wand music with a dash of folk spice tossed in for extra flavour. Track 4 picks up a shamanic impression with a deep bull-roarer drone and a voice crooning as if deep in a hypnotic trance. The tribal idea reappears in Track 6, a celebratory stomp-a-thon in which the musicians howl and chant a strange liturgy in an exotic language all their own. I feel as though I’m back in the land of the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, that duo who I’m sure we all miss so badly.

The musicians bring plenty of influences and experience to their group jam sessions but the over-riding genre here is folk-tinged droning psychedelia improv with some jazz. The album could have sustained longer and more developed tracks if Eternal Zio had desired. These guys have to be allowed to do their own thang or else the spell they weave might prove to be overkill and the listeners are in danger of remaining mute and spellbound long after the music has ended.

Contact: Boring Machines, Black Sweat Records

 

 

Unfolk + Live Book: psychedelic journey and call for justice in folk music adventures

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Alessandro Monti, Unfolk + Live Book, Diplodisc, 2 x CD DIPL 005/6 (2012)

News reached me the other day of a young software engineer Amanda Ghassaei who etched a Radiohead album with a laser cutter on a wooden disc. She’s also etched other audio recordings onto acrylic and paper. Phooey, you all say, a wooden music-playing record has been made before. WHAT?! I had to find out and sure enough one Heracleum Ipotesis had done it way back when in the High Middle Ages to preserve his “unfolk” music compositions – or so says one Alessandro Monti who with his Unfolk Collective music combo have had their “Unfolk” album from 2006 remastered and reissued with a bonus CD of reworked songs from a previous album “The Venetian Book of the Dead”.

Most tracks on the remastered “Unfolk” disc might have Italian-language titles but the music draws influences from Irish folk music traditions, Indian ragas, Arab and Venetian mediaeval Venetian lute music among other music genres. The journey through the disc is an interesting one: it’s as much a tour through Western contemporary popular music turns on “folk” and tracks like “Aerofolk” feature mind-expanding space cosmic music played on electric guitar, synthesiser and other electronic keyboards, giving a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the corpus of works by the likes of Can or Amon Düül 2. Speaking of “Aerofolk”, I think that’s becoming my favourite track here the more I listen to it for its sense of wide-eyed wonder and joy in exploring inner and outer space. Generally the happier the music on the album sounds, the better it is; the music that’s melancholy, brooding or contemplative tends to come across as a bit ordinary. One curious coincidence I note is that the violin melody on track 11 matches, note for note, the violin tune on Swedish 1970s space / folk rock group Älgarnas Trädgård’s song “Children of Possibilities” from that band’s first album; I think it’s likely both bands have used the same mediaeval tune.

Disc 2 “Live Book” sees a different set of musicians around Monti playing live in Mestre near Venice and in Leicester in 2011. About half the tracks from “The Venetian Book of the Dead”, referring to the workers and people who lost their lives to cancer and other diseases as a result of industrial accidents in areas around Venice and Mestre during the 1970s and 1980s, appear here. Subordinate to the lyrics, the music adopts moods appropriate to their message: dark, smoky and urgent (“Someone is always screwing someone”) and blunt, blaring and impassioned (“Forgive”). The best track here though is an excursion into a nostalgia for various 20th century music genres that had their roots in Afro-American oppression, poverty and despair: “Bedroom discotheque” gets its soulful, wistful emotion from the beautiful acoustic guitar and electric cello melodies and changes in key that bring an extra layer of dark desperation to vocalist Kevin Hewick’s singing. Through repetition of the lyrics, Hewick tries to push back an enormous and relentless advance of ice that threatens to wipe out an entire structure of music historical and cultural memory. His lyrical venture into hiphop to me seems awkward and ill-advised though, as if he can’t quite figure out how this music, born in poverty and violence-ridden ghettoes, and others like it came to be unashamed whores for the global music industry. (I can’t figure it out myself either, having felt estranged from hiphop and rap since the 1980s when the commercialisation of the genre began.) The music is a mix of unfolk, blues and rock with a slight dominance by electric guitars and other electrified musical instruments.

Some very good music is featured on both discs but there are also passages of quite stodgy instrumental music, especially on the latter half of Disc 2 where the music takes a more pessimistic and embittered turn with tracks like “The radioactive man”. Monti’s quest for social justice in his music hasn’t quite reached the stage where he might start tackling the true sources of oppression in our society, going after banks in their usurpation of control of global economies and their links with corporations across the world including the arms industry, and the media, both “conservative” and “progressive”, alike for pulling huge chunks of wool over our eyes.  I’m hoping he’s moving in a direction of calling for people to take back their power and do whatever they can under their control, no matter how small or petty, to create or recreate a fair world.

In an age in which most music produced these days is under the thumb of global media corporations and even the music of traditional societies from the past or in the current present is shaped and packaged by the music industry as an endless array of exotica, divorced from its original contexts, for consumption by tourists, Monti’s concept of unfolk music may be intended as a challenge to such concepts.

 

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Right Heft


Concrete and Clay

I quite like the Gobi Wow (NEVER COME ASHORE NCALP1) LP from FvRTvR, which turns out to be the duo of the American percussionist Fritz Welch with German loonoid Guido Henneböhl working a mysterious home-made electronic monstrosity. Together they conspire to leak out disjunctive additive-free homegrown noise comprising electronic bursts, mangled voices, and hammered metallism. This pair were very good together on the Demon Cycle 1-9 release as I recall, a fairly fatal mesmerising diabolic charmer from which grotesque ancient voices would ofttimes creak. Gobi Wow has the same undercurrents of nastery, but is a lot more bitty…the general debris of the sound feels like broken masonry pieces scattered about the studio floor which cannot be fitted together, not least to reconstruct a Greek ruin. Add to that the general inclination of the two players towards refusing musical convention wherever possible, in favour of twisted, slimy and spiky eruptions. These strategies cohere to result in a difficult surface listen, full of uglification and indigestibility. However, what we can admire is the stern determination of the two farming-fishermen to keep going no matter what, even if the weather be inhospitable for planting oats, and the pond yields no more bream to the bitter worms that are suspended on their two rods. We haven’t come across this degree of coarsened aesthetic anti-pleasure since Adam Bohman played with Damian Bisciglia. Rachel Lowther did the modelling clay cover. And it is a good choice of imagery for the music, which has the rough and lumpy quality of a half-worked statement of rawness, ripped from the carcass of a two-headed artist-creating golem type monster. Arrived 25th April 2012.

Something, Anything

Lovely songs by Chris Weisman on his Fresh Sip (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR074) double LP. In fact the entire set is indeed like a “fresh sip” of fruit juice packed with goody vitamins. Chris did just about everything on the album, playing all the instruments and dubbing on tasty harmony vocals, and probably acting as his own producer between takes on what I assume were these home-made recordings originally produced in 2009 in his Battleboro home. There are two “suites”, and on Yen You, many of the songs could be said to start life built on a low-key electro-pop skeleton with a simple programmed beat to keep all elements working to order, but then again each song is also a springboard for rich harmonised vocal melodies, drones, guitar solos, and quite restrained supporting melodies played on nice keyboards. So far everything and everyone is doing flip-fops, lightweight acrobatics of poppy grace. There is a refreshing absence of freakery and psychotic weirdness from each of these sweet productions. Weisman has no interest in de-producing his own songs simply to demonstrate his studio know-how or to explode the mind of the listener, although this isn’t to deny his obvious recording skills. He just likes his art to conceal art. Another strong plus factor is quite simply the limpid beauty of the young man’s singing voice; The Association would have been proud to count him as a member any day. The lyrics seem quite poetic and personal too, with oblique and private messages that have a charm and a depth which you certainly won’t fathom with just one or two spins. Looks like this will be a grower. On I Don’t Care Again there are more songs in like vein, perhaps some of them weighted slightly more in favour of the acoustic guitar and the mysterious poetry and manufactured via a slightly more ramshackle production, but no doubt all four sides are cut from the same paisley cloth. The material was originally released on cassette in 2010 on Autumn Records, something I will never see, so this vinyl rescue is quite welcome. The sleeve design is understated to say the least, and may hint at something about the creator’s impish modesty. At a time when American underground music was in danger of losing its way in an ever-increasing spiral of eccentricity and insanity, it’s refreshing to find there are still some musicians who haven’t completely forsaken the craft of pop melody and concision in songwriting. The press notes make comparisons with Todd Rundgren, which are apt. From 31 May 2012.

Jollity Farm

Songwriting skill which soars and gallops on quite another plane can be found with the Happy Jawbone Family Band from Vermont, one of those wayward and very able combos which the USA seems to be breeding and exporting with considerable skill lately (Colin L. Orchestra, Trawler Bycatch, The Bird Names, King Kong Ding Dong). The songs on this hearty and extroverted freak-party album OK Midnight, You Win (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR063) are played with swagger and confidence, like a slightly tipsy form of country and western mixed with elements of raw psychedelia and played by mutant rockabilly guitarists, all of which would be welcome enough, but the real flavour of the album is to be savoured in the voice of the lead singer. He has a thick and clotted tone with vaguely nasal undercurrents, and he seems to be using a broad tongue which he wraps around each lyrical moment like it was a chunky golden nugget he’s about to chew. You never forget a distinctive singing voice. The effect is made yet more delicious with the additions of high-range female vocal harmonies and backing vocals, which have also signed up to the general agreement agreement to partake of the juice and rollick freely in a fun-loving balmy atmosphere. This may be as close as we’ll get in our time to a reincarnation of the great Kevin Ayers. But these crazed Yankees also have a slightly menacing side when they get warmed up, chanting and declaiming with emphatic mania like some militant hillbillies practising their war chants. Not every one of these melodies may be a memorable one, but when this group find the right couplet of dementia to savour, they’ll hammer it into your forehead with a six-inch nail. Beautifully recorded with a solid and punchy presence. I don’t really know who to credit with what in this loopy collective, although names are supplied on the insert, nor can I tell you what any of the songs mean. You don’t learn them with your brain, so much as feel them in the belly. All this issued under the wraps of cover art which proposes a mutant birth double-horse running every which way, and an insert textured with coarse animal hair.

This Heat

From same label we also have Cold / Burn (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR069), which is another kettle of bones and a return to the juddering noise-drone collective music thing we all love so well. It features Anla Courtis, Okkyung Lee, C. Spencer Yeh and Jon Wesseltoft, with Lasse Marhaug behind the controls – a major meeting of minds which I don’t expect will happen again any time soon. The album is two side-long improvisations made using violin, harmonium, cello and electric guitar, and oodles of instinctive inspiration. It’s one of those miracles of performed music where the finished product is full of paradox – a single wodge of monotonous sound, yet alive with teeming detail; staying firmly on one root note yet also allowing a million and one diversions to wriggle freely across wild scales and tonalities. What I also like is the slightly untidy quality of the playing, where no-one is paying attention to the strictures of performed improvisation, a genre which can have its own set of rigid rules. Nor do they hew to the self-imposed puritanism which can sometimes bedevil those who try to emulate the music of Terry Riley or La Monte Young. My hero on two legs is C. Spencer Yeh, the Bronze God from Brooklyn, who is supplying a good deal of the energy on these sides; when his bowing arm is coiled and unsprung he can piston back and forth continuously for as long as it take a dynasty in China to rise and fall. And any time Courtis steps into a studio or simply enters a room full of listeners, you can expect that room to become charged with his magical-realist visions as he spins his unlikely yarns of metaphysical heroism. Norwegian Wesseltoft, who also adds shruti box and organ to the droning churn, produced a memorable cassette called Singing Cobra Ecstasy for our ears in 2009, and here he just keeps up with a steady shimmering drone long beyond the point of normalcy or sanity would expect. Korean cellist Lee is that fragile genius who won us over with her understated work on the Anicca LP for Dancing Wayang. Besides gender balance in a group, it’s arguably important to get a good balance of acoustic and electric instruments, which may be which this session scores such a direct hit on certain nerval synapses and brainial cord-crakes. You gotta swallow the whole thing like a horse pill the size of a hockey puck to get full effect, and submerge both feet in the rich organic dronery which knows no boundaries, showing how the power of massed imaginative energy in a mutually respecting improv context can knock formal composition hollow, when the parameters are just right. Excellent. From 27th February 2012.

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“I Am A Surfer / Musician”

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Laid Back (EM RECORDS EM1093CD) by Corky Carroll & Friends is the last item in the lovely box sent to us in May 2012 by the Japanese EM Records label, whose choice of unusual, obscure and fascinating reissues is only surpassed by the high quality and attention to detail with which they are produced…in 2008 we took in a scad of excellent Surf Music reissues from this label, all of them superb-i-mundo, having grown into firm favourites for this ho-dad over the years…it was the first we’d heard of The Farm, Peter Finch, Tully, Tamam Shud and the Tim Gaze Band, and these oddities were a rich mix of home-recorded surf music and soundtracks to rarely-seen surf movies, with sleeve notes giving many glimpses into this rarefied hothouse culture…with the reissue of Corky Carroll’s Laid Back, another piece of this odd sand-encrusted jigsaw is now in our fingers. For starters, this 1971 album was produced by Dennis Dragon, the main man behind The Farm, and like Carroll himself a genuine pro surfer first and foremost who had turned to musical endeavours…all the performers on the record were bona fide surfers too, and the record was put together as a sort of road-trip with mobile studio, dropping in on these coast-dwelling sports types at their homes and recording them al fresco, au naturel…a garage surf record…a field recording, in places, if you count the gentle birdsong in background…if surf music by surfers was a form of indigenous folk music, then Dennis Dragon was acting as an unofficial Peter Kennedy or Alan Lomax type…

Of course the record itself is not like The Farm at all, nor is it surf music in the mode of Dick Dale’s razor-edged axe solos or lush Beach Boys harmonies, as Corky himself points out in his plain-spoken sleeve notes (the complete absence of any hi-falutin self-serving nonsense on this whole record is a breath of fresh air). It’s mostly acoustic guitar music played by enthused amateurs, an album which you wouldn’t mind filing one or two inches away from your Fahey and Kottke LPs. Raymond Patterson is a Hawaiian guitarist, and his exquisite ‘Maui Chimes’ would make a grown man cry. Al Oakie is a blues player who also sings without a trace of caustic anger or bitterness and blows his harmonica in melodic ways. David Lyons has a strong and elaborate style of finger-picking that will intrigue followers of Basho. Liane Hirschl warbles in solemn tones like a fourth-division version of Joan Baez; she may not have the protest elements or been loved by the media, but she scores more field goals with her plain manner. Hana is a four-piece band whose splendid ‘Hanalei’ even has the sound of the surf crashing waves recorded in the background as they perform a perhaps surprisingly ultra-mellow piece of cocktail lounge music on two guitars, bass and piano, one you could comfortably use to sip your evening pineapple juice laced with hot lava. Their ‘Ain’t Nothin’ (In the World)’ is also a chord-heavy sweet smoothster, an incarnation of milk-white non-soulful soul boys The Alessi Brothers a few years before ‘Oh Lori’ was a hit.

Carroll himself only appears on the album quite briefly as it turns out, once as part of a combo on ‘Waikiki Shuffle’ and on two short solo bursts, but his sturdy acoustic guitar style is a resonating delight. ‘Sparkles’ last but a minute, was used for a movie called Five Summer Stories, and is sixty seconds of nostalgic warmth; ‘A Walk On Hot Sand’ is another unaffected and moving melody. Carroll would go on to make about 20 albums in the next forty years, but this is his first and represents his all-acoustic phase. Maybe he was playing Jerry Garcia in reverse. It also represents virtually nothing to do with surfing culture per se as far as I can tell; virtually none of the track titles refer to shooting the curl or hanging ten, and instead seem to celebrate the joys of a solitary and simple beach-side lifestyle with lots of sunshine and fresh air. A fulfilling life one suspects, and one that is also of course incredibly relaxed, hence the title. In all a very pleasing if non-essential item, and what I will keep it for is its lack of pretensions and refreshing aural honesty. Interesting fact: Corky Carroll was approached by The Beach Boys in the 1960s and invited to appear in a pop promo movie for them, also to accompany them on a tour just so they could say they had an actual surfer in the famously non-surfing (except for Dennis, a little) surf band. Carroll declined the offer because he was so “into” his professional career as a surfer at the time. Now there’s integrity for you!

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Four Vinyl Vamaritans


The Bunwinkies LP Maps Of Our New Constellations (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR062) is a collection of acoustic songs from these fey American types who play plenty of acoustic guitars and sing, adding many pleasing instrumental touches from the piano, slide guitar, autoharp, melodica. They are particularly good with the percussion which ornaments in spare and original ways. So far we have like a model version of a country and western backing band, only reduced and updated for the no-nonsense 21st century. But there is also the strong singing voice of Beverly Ketch put to the fore, a voice which once it’s heard will bring a ray of sunshine to every tear duct. Her lyrics are about flowers, colours, life, skies, countryside, the weather, the seasons, the grass and the trees, and such. Mainly about the joys of looking at beautiful things and what we can learn about life thereby. Only a miserable bitterling could complain about that. Another telling song on side one is celebrating the values of the family and the simple country life, as opposed to being ruled by the tyranny of the clock and working for another man, presumably in the city with a huge pocket watch strapped to the back. This is sung by one of the male Bunwinkies. Apparently they like to project the idea of a rural family 1, even if the band members aren’t all quite related. The production is direct and clear. I like the very simple and plain arrangements – nothing is “hidden” or occluded under studio cloaks, and all the plain instrumental technique is there on full display. Pieces of homespun furniture might adorn the living room of this rural family if we ever visited. If carping, I might say their tunes are not especially original or memorable, and often the singers (the men in the band also vocalise) default to rather obvious melody lines which are already implied in their chord changes. But it’s still a jolly and assured sound they sing out with as they swagger and swing along the country road, without any free-form burbling or off-key nonsense that has oft-times been associated with lesser entries in the “free folk” genre. The album is a pleasant piece of non-weird Americana. From December 2011.

The Ship Chop LP (DEKORDER 059) is edited by Daniel Padden, the talented and visionary Glasgow composer who is also known as a member of Volcano The Bear. His Pause For The Jet LP for this label remains a fave in these quarters. This newie is a cut-up special, the result of a pro-active guerrilla raid on a record collection, perhaps his own, of ethnographic recordings. Apparently when he started his labours, he began keeping careful notes of sources, dates, countries, and other salient details that fell into his sampling sack, and then found that the work he produced was taking on a life of its own, at which point he decided the notes became superfluous. Or at any rate they were a degree of administrative detail which hampered the creative process. I take this to mean that he started out with an interest in significant geographical connections between the history of indigenous music, and then grew more interested in creating these exciting and weird collages that are a law unto themselves, coiled with an internal logic that only a Padden can explain. The results burned onto the vinyl are certainly rich in content. At any given time across these 11 tracks we could hear recordings from “at least three different countries”. Samples, snatches, loops, overlays, cut-ups, and multi-layered playbacks are among the techniques used to create this impossible fantasy of world history, expressed in tongue, foot, hand and arm. A great deal of ingenuity has been used in building these musical juxtapositions. Melody lines from weird bagpipes and horns, vocalists intoning in foreign or lost tongues, and invented rhythm patterns made perhaps from gamelan and drum samples. Unlike Ghédalia Tazartès say who would make it his mission to use ethnographic music history to terrify us with its strangeness, Padden takes a more approachable view and arrives at a sort of latterday Exotica concoction, applying the mannerisms and stylings of Martin Denny and Les Baxter as he boils and fricassees the record collection in the hard drive. He completes the assemblage (and emphasises the artifice of it all) by adding wonderfully contrived fragmented titles, some of which read like lost counsels from the writings of a wise Chinese philosopher, while some of them are just shopping lists of objects which might feasibly have been found in 1930s Africa, Peru or Thailand. Arrived November 2011.

Unusual and striking experiments in song form called Always Already (ASH INTERNATIONAL ASH 10.1) by Purity Supreme. I like the way the package presents a stern countenance explaining very little, assuming that we all know the parties involved; already the release feels like an odd riddle. Two songs on the A side. The main attraction to the listener is the singing-intoning voice of the lead fellow singer, who may or may not be the French half of the act. Cracked and dusty his their vocal cords be, whether through mannered device or naturally desiccated, trying to convey the effect of a dissolute and broken man person. Just right for followers of Wm Burroughs we might think, but this sort of prose-speak-sing also shades into areas once occupied by Nick Cave or Michael Gira, as does the lugubrious and dense content. The lyrics are highly ambiguous, even when they seem straight to the point and use plain English at all times. I like to hear multiple repetitions of slightly mysterious phrases in songs and Purity Supreme does this trick very well. The first song keeps saying “It’s Nice To See You”, when the mood of the singer and indeed the music itself is expressing the exact opposite of that sentiment, and it’s a song that wishes we would just go home and stay there. Angst-ridden steel strings and a relentless drum pattern make this snarky item a vicious twin brother to Leonard Cohen’s later works. The second song is slightly more recognisable as something a weary Lou Reed might have recorded at any time between 1975 and 1988, and with its basic guitar and drum sound could almost pass for any decent slab of indie art-rock music. On the flip, even more words and more repetitions in the two remaining songs. So many words, these songs are more like recited poems or short stories really, very much like a slightly nastier Tom Waits or what we might hear if Charles Bukowski turned his throaty husk to song. Indeed the words are privileged by appearing in full on the front cover. And there’s a very strong cinematic component too, with vivid film noir images somehow encoded in the very sound of the record. Narrators alluding to scenes unknown, to backstories we cannot know, and delivered with a snarling curl to the lip at all times. The creators here are the French musician Christophe Van Huffel, and the American writer-composer Leslie Winer. Quite unusual, muscular, and opaque music from these offbeat modern beatniks.

[Updated above review 16/01/2013: I think I got genders wrong and misidentified performers.]

Big Shadow Montana (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS020) is a rich abstract droner from BJ Nilsen teaming up with Stilluppsteypa. As electronic ambient mood music goes this is surprisingly rich and full of hidden information. A lot of hidden layers are buried in its vaguely shifting masses of treated sound, and odd segments bob to the surface until we can make out their shapes in the cauldron, at which point they vanish below again. Heavenly choirs, church organ, opera singers, and even some sitars are among these semi-occluded elements. The record even manages to morph into some musical passages now and again, rather than simply meandering around the textured fields of digital linoleum in padded Turkish slippers. To yield these results, much judicious selection and assembly of sources would have been a requisite discipline, methinks. A great deal of time spent by the creators listening and editing. Nilsen is very good at bringing a multitude of field recordings and samples together into a small space and somehow getting them to tell a story, in very loose terms. This one is like a psychedelic sleep-walk episode through a dayglo Tibetan landscape. It is divided up into subtle little episodes, and moves forward on its sluggish feet from one ambiguous stepping stone to the next. Lots of keyboards in evidence, in case I didn’t mention that. And a knack for breaking into a little pop melody when you least expect it. Arrived here 16 February 2012.

  1. For other examples, perhaps see The Grateful Dead and the verso of their Aoxomoxoa LP cover; and Quicksilver Messenger Service, with their outlaw ranchhouse lifestyle.

Ligeti Morphed: a sometimes spellbinding performance of acoustic and electronic music combined

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Ensemble Offspring with Oren Ambarchi and Martin Ng, Ligeti Morphed, Sydney Festival / About An Hour (CarriageWorks, Eveleigh, 13 January 2013)

Acoustic and electronic music come together in this concert using works by composer Gyorgy Ligeti (1923 – 2006) as inspiration and foundation. The venue is a former railway yard recently converted into a centre to develop and present works of contemporary music. Four members of the experimental classical music group Ensemble Offspring performed on violins and percussion on a cramped stage with Oren Ambarchi on guitar and Martin Ng on turntables. Surrounded by black curtains on three sides, the musicians were almost dwarfed by a shadowy atmosphere that was a little on the sinister side. Distant rumbles of trains outside – there are busy railway lines behind the venue – added a spooky effect. The hall was not air-conditioned and, with every seat taken, the air was palpably hot and sweaty and people were frantically fanning themselves with copies of the program.

The Ensemble Offspring musicians primed themselves and us with their rendition of Ambarchi and Ng’s “Simulacra 7 “, a pleasant droning piece. The original piece was playing in their headphones and the women responded to the music with their answers on violin, cymbal and one other percussion instrument (jeez, I already forget what that was). This was followed by a relatively conservative performance of Ligeti’s Piano Etude #2 ‘Cordes Vides’ 4′.

The best was yet to come and we got a taste of it with the two percussionists, Bree van Reyk and Claire Edwardes, hitting and drawing on the skins with their version of Ambarchi and Ng’s “Woods 15′ “, a surprisingly deep droning piece that could have been mistaken for two rumbling cargo jet aircraft coasting through the sky. Van Reyk and Edwardes later swapped whacking drums with pom-pommed sticks for whacking marimbas with pom-pommed sticks on Ligeti’s “Continuum (2-marimba version) 6′ ” and this, even more so than the drum duet, was an exercise in intense concentration, split-second anticipation and timing, and intuitive knowledge of one’s own and her partner’s sections of the music as the musicians set up on-going repetitive loops of minimalist thrumming of the bars that change continuously. The actual music itself was not so remarkable as the echoing bell-like metallic resonance that reverberated overhead and carried through the air.

Ambarchi and Ng joined the musicians on the last two pieces of the program, of which the rendition of Ligeti’s “After Atmospheres 16′ “, based on the piece that was used in the Stanley Kubrick flick “2001: A Space Odyssey”, was the major highlight of the entire set: powerful thunder and gentle rain-showers were simulated during the course of the music, the women blew peals of shrieks on toy woodwinds, Ng coaxed some surprisingly deep and heavy drones from his turntables and Ambarchi flipped vibrato flecks and other gentle effects from his guitar. Of all the performers, Ambarchi seemed the quietest but he was working hard on his sampler and guitar and I was sitting closer to Ng than to him so the relative distances between them and me would have made a difference to what I was hearing.

Unlike some recent live performances I’ve seen where chunks of minutes got chopped off from the set time – I’m still annoyed at the time I went to see Noam Chomsky talk at the Sydney Opera House and the time allocated to him was whittled down from 90 minutes to less than an hour – the musicians stretched 60 minutes to 90 minutes so they literally gave 50% more than they were obliged to. Unfortunately this meant that when they finished, the entire row of people sitting with me stampeded over me during the applause to catch the next item on the Sydney Festival program so, erm, Oren and Martin, if you’re reading this and you guys noticed that I was a bit slow to get up and clap, that was probably because I had been run over without even the privilege of being startled to see my whole life flash by in oncoming headlights.

One aim of the set was to produce sounds that, combined together in real time, evolve into new sound textures and moods of their own accord. In this, the musicians weren’t always consistently successful and it was actually easy to tell who was making what sound in later performances; but when they hit the mark together and held it, then the result was spellbinding.

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Gossamer Albatrosses

The Tower Recordings

Subterraneanact is the duo of Henk Bakker and Jelmer Cnossen, and their debut Subterraneanact (Z6 RECORDS Z6399699) is an unusual piece of studio assemblage created in Rotterdam. The album is a distillation of recordings made in the studio. The recordings have been edited, mixed and remixed; then subjected to further sampling, remixing, and rebuilding processes. At all times the duo were working to their own private sets of compositional and improvisational rules; the aim seems to have been to transform the sounds of their respective instruments as far as possible, resulting in an “atmospheric and expressive sound environment”. Considering the source material was mostly acoustic, i.e. clarinet and drums, it’s a truly extreme example of what intensive reprocessing can do to taped sound. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a purely electronic album on the surface, although there are printed credits for live electronics and sampling using the “Ableton” device. Despite the wild, crazy and sometimes ugly remanipulations of sound, the original clarinets and drums continually show their growly, thumpy faces at various portions in the entertainment, surfacing like live deep-sea fish in a well-cooked bouillabaisse, and about as welcome. The clarinettist Bakker studied his instrument in Utrecht some 20 years ago, has an interesting history of performing, composing and doing radio, and is now associated with WORM in Rotterdam. Cnossen the drummer (also known as Malorix and JC) has drummed in a variety of bands and, of the two, seems more conversant with the sound-recycling process represented here – most of his Malorix work is executed through his personal take on the laptop-plunderphonic-meltdown approach, utilising discarded music from old compact discs and tapes. The screen-printed cover unfolds into an unsettling perspective of an impossible iron tower being built under the earth’s crust, gradually poking its long neck out through a mineshaft opening. This image emphasises the “constructed” nature of the music, but also its sheer impossibility – what we hear sometimes defies rational thought. It’s not that it works by juxtaposition of shocking sounds, but by a form of reworking that feels almost manual when you listen to it. The composers are kneading dough and working plasticine between their fingers. A very hand-knitted and cottage-industry approach to electro-acoustic, resulting in loud, primitive and lumpy musical forms. Arrived 13 April 2012.

The Premature Burial

Subterraneanact create a “virtual” underground space through their studio work. We could say that the American death-metal industrial project T.O.M.B. take things one stage further on UAG (CRUCIAL BLAST RECORDS CBR94), by putting themselves physically into bleak and hostile environments to realise their music. The basic tracks were recorded in assorted locales of horror – abandoned sanatoriums, asylums, morgues, and deserted crypts. It seems they did everything but lock themselves in a cemetery in pursuit of their art. Granted, the music has been reworked in a studio after the fact, but it’s the recording in that selected psychic zone that adds the extra dimension of sheer black terror. Once inside their chosen sanctum, T.O.M.B. would play back their tapes and field recordings at loud volumes to allow reverberant shocks to vibrate from the cold walls, and progress the ritual through drumming exercises, often hammering on the very walls themselves. UAG, an acronym for Uncovered Ancient Gateways, thus assumes the proportions of performance art, as though the CD were a document of unholy and extremely morbid rites; the theme is extended visually in the enclosed booklet of monochrome photos, providing absurdly dramatic reimaginings of these lugubrious seances. Their track titles make multiple references to the grim delights of the “bone orchard”, spicing things up with snippets of witchcraft, bloodletting, moon worship, and various invented ritualistic procedures; and the whole package is topped off with that lurid green-tinted cover art with its fearful symmetry, its runic letters, its hints of sado-masochistic costume, and inverted liturgies. But sonically, this is all quite some way from conventional black metal or industrial death music, and T.O.M.B. (whose name unpacks into Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy) serve up strangely compelling and powerful atmospheres on this album, eschewing anything to do with song form in favour of continual tones of abstract oppressive noise, underpinned by frenzied and horrifying drumming. While undoubtedly satisfying to bloodthirsty fans of the respective genres it inhabits, this grisly and claustrophobic record works equally well as extreme experimental noise. Was released in January 2012, I think we may have got our copy in April.

The Senors of Seek

Sent to us by Murray Ward of Cardiff is a splendid split cassette (HI/LO029) by The Failed NASA Experiment and Ø+yn, and it’s released on a terrific micro-label called The Lows and The Highs Records. Their website contains further oddities which look worthy of investigation also. The Failed NASA Experiment turns out to be Murray Ward himself playing solo music with occasional help from Euan Rodger, Alex Williams and Matthew Lovett. Mysterious electronic tones, clattering percussion and random noise bursts, plus extremely heavy psychedelic drones and circular riffs, where the amplified distortion and sense of relentless forward-chugging motion has prompted comparisons with the Faust of the 1970s. TFNE presents a delirious and acid-fried experience, with many puzzling moments inserted into and between the tracks, and concluding the suite with a pastoral acoustic guitar riff that almost makes this tape a lo-fi update on any given Pink Floyd album. The track titles are lyrical and beautiful. This music has the refreshing Celtic tang of well-crafted Welsh magic, enacted by drawing chalk markings on the floor of black-timbered chapels in the hillside.

Ø+yn are an Argentinean five-piece of underground noisemakers, with Cinco Cantos a la Virgen de Satrostramocha on their side of the split. Superficially they may seem to be questing after the same hallucinatory and revelatory states as Mr Ward and his chums, but they pursue their quarry in a much more mysterious way. It’s an offbeat and delirious form of trancey acoustic drone-folk, featuring violins, guitars, percussion and whiney solo lines made with a nasal chanting and wailing voice or equally nasal wind instruments of some sort; many non-western harmonic scales and modes emerge from the improvisations, and at times the music could almost be mistaken for an ethnic oddity from the Folkways catalogue. In some ways this might be seen as a variant of the sort of loopy thing the Finns used to do so well, except Ø+yn are nowhere near so cluttered musically nor (thankfully) as eccentric in the vocal department. Instead, the instrumentation is pared to bone, the recordings are intimate and private, and even the trance-rhythm patterns are rough-hewn and occasionally wobble off the path like a less sure-footed mountain goat. The team may have cinematic aspirations, building their albums in line with the logic of a Jodorowsky film, and even sample a snippet from a Roman Polanski movie for one track. The excellent artworks are collages by Murray Ward, with overlay drawings by Ian Watson. Quite delightful all round; many thanks to Murray for sending this.